Thoracic Auscultation

Have you ever taken your pet to the vet, watched the doc listen to your pet's chest with a stethoscope and wondered what exactly they are listening to?  Well, believe it or not, that serious expression on the vet's face is there because listening to the patient's chest, or thoracic auscultation is a very important part of the physical examination. 

So what exactly are we listening for?  There are 2 main sounds that we are assessing with the stethoscope- heart sounds and lung sounds.  A healthy heart has a typical lub-dub sound in a regular rhythm.  The heart sounds may be abnormal when there is a murmur or an extra beat.  The most common abnormality is a dog heart murmur, and this is normally heard where there is a disturbance to the normal flow of blood around the heart and the great vessels, for example due to a diseased heart valve.  If the heart sounds are muffled, this may indicate fluid or a mass in the chest.  The other important consideration is the rhythm of the heart, which should be regular.  The presence of an abnormal rhythm may indicate a disturbance in the electrical conduction in the heart muscle.

Healthy dog lungs should sound clear on auscultation when the animal takes a breath.  Abnormal heart sounds such as crackles and moist rales can occur with congestive heart disease or lung disease such as pneumonia or bronchitis.

Depending on the abnormality detected on thoracic auscultation as well as your pet's clinical status, your vet may recommend further tests such as X-rays of the chest, ultrasound or an electrocardiograph (ECG).

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